When I say "fall is coming!" what do you immediately think of?
Boots and sweaters?
That's what most people think of.
But if you're a runner you're thinking of…
Cooler temps for better runs
And maybe a couple more black toe nails.
Am I right or am I right?
With all this extra time on our feet spent fine tuning our running performance, fall is the time to stay tuned into our body. Because the last thing we want is injury creeping up and sidelining us before we even get to toe the line of our fall marathon.
Yes, continue to do your strength training. Your core work. Your easy run days.
But what about your feet?
Are your feet strong?
As runners, we take these amazing pieces of engineering for granted. They're marvelously complicated-both flexible and solid at the same time. And frankly, without feet…running just isn't happening.
I'm stating the obvious, I know, I know.
But have you actually ever thought about it? Do you have STRONG FEET?
Take it a step back, do you know what strong feet look like? Feel like? Do you understand why we need strong feet?
Let's dive into that today. By the end of today's blog, I want you to understand what strong feet "look" like, feel like, and why strong feet are an absolute must for runners to keep running strong and meet those fall running goals.
What does having strong feet look like?
Having strong feet means having strong, solid teammates.
Let me explain.
Our feet do not operate alone. Our feet work as a unit providing a foundation for the rest of our body, specifically for the joints stacked directly about our feet.
*Knees and Hips have entered the chat*
Our feet are directly impacted by weakness or discrepancies in these joints up the chain. A lot of the gait compensations we experience (and the ones I see in the clinic) may be visible at the level of the foot, but the foot is the victim. The culprit may actually be a glute muscle or affected hip mobility and the poor foot is just trying make running happen with the resources (strength, mobility, etc) it has available to it.
For example: check out these Youtube videos of two different running forms:
In these examples, it looks like the foot is moving everywhere but where it should be. The culprit actually lies in 2 different glute weakness and/or hip mobility issues. I can't know positively from just looking at these videos whether these individual's feet are the weakest I've ever seen, but I can bet money on the fact that they're feet are not as strong as they should be.
So back to my point…
Strong feet means solid teammates including strong hips and knees. But strength alone won't save you. Having strong feet also looks like solid single leg balance.
Because your single leg stance (standing on one leg) is an assessment of the single leg balance, the ability of your foot to adapt to different surfaces, lower extremity coordination, and balance that you need while running.
It seems easy enough.
Can you stand on one leg like a flamingo for 10-15 seconds?
Can you do it on both sides?
Is there a difference sided to side-easy or harder?
Now, can you keep your balance on one leg on different surfaces for that same amount of time?
Try a hard floor vs. carpet. Is it equal on both sides?
Now, take it outside! Again, balance for 10-15 seconds.
Can you balance on one leg in the grass? (shoes on vs. shoes off)
Or on the slant of a hill?
Again, is it equal on both sides?
Running doesn't exist just on a treadmill. As runners, we need to be have strong feet on a variety of different surfaces (grass, pavement, dirt, slanted surfaces, uneven surfaces, gravel…the list goes on!)
If you test out any of those different scenarios and find them challenging, those are signs that it's time to work on your feet.
( Wondering how? Comment down below to get on the waitlist for my next Blueprint for Runners to Stronger Feet Workshop)
Now what does having strong feet feel like?
I can't just say "You're feet shouldn't get tired".
Because after some runs, yea, your feet are going to be tired! Or maybe breaking in some new shoes that change your running mechanics make your feet work harder. That will leave your feet tired too!
So fatigue isn't necessarily a bad thing, but your feet shouldn't be fatigued after every run.
Foot fatigue should only be happening after hard workouts, and perhaps more noticeably after ones with longer run times or distances rather than hills or speed workouts. The theory here is that with longer runs comes more time on your feet. Typically, speed workouts are shorter, but that doesn't mean your feet is less engaged. Speed workouts require a different form of stability from your foot compared to your long, slow distance runs. The main point is there should a reason behind the foot fatigue such as a hard workout that has pushed your limits in a new way.
And finally, why do we need strong feet?
Let's look at what your feet need to be able to do.
When you're running, your feet need to be able to absorb load, absorb the ground force reaction of your foot coming in contact with the ground. Your feet then need to be able to do something with that energy! Your foot accomplishes this by moving through correct foot mechanics (fancy words: supination and pronation).
All of that allows your foot to generate power, allowing you to roll off your toes into your next stride. Your foot needs to be solid but flexible. It needs to stay strong throughout the correct mechanics it naturally flows through.
On top of that, your feet need to be strong in two ways. They need to be strong in an endurance way-they need to last you over a 10 miles run for thousands of thousands of strides. They also need to be strong in a "lift heavy things" way- they need to be able to handle the load of your body impacting the ground.
To summarize, signs of having strong feet are:
Good running form with minimal asymmetries side to side
Strong hips and knees
Reasonable foot fatigue that is proportional to the workout
And solid, equal single leg balance on both sides
After all of that, if your curious and wanting more I have the solution.
My workshop The Blueprint for Runners to Stronger Feet is jam packed with quick and easy exercises to activate and strengthen your feet in a runner-specific way proven in the physical therapy clinic to decrease foot fatigue and facilitate correct muscle use from the ground up (meaning from feet to hips).
(there are those hips again!)
If you're interested, all you have to do is comment down below and subscribe! I'll put you on the VIP list and you'll be the first to know when the doors open again for the workshop!
Until next time, running fit fam.
Marie Whitt //@dr.whitt.fit